Danger, Deliverance and Art
Publication Year: 1988
Published by: State University of New York Press
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My interest in the topic of the Golem commenced in 1975, when I was preparing my Ph. D. on the Kabbalah of Abraham Abulafia. His original treatment of this theme aroused my curiosity and despite the fact that I devoted to this issue only a few pages in the thesis, I continued for years to collect related material from manuscripts. My return to this issue in a more concrete manner was catalyzed by an invitation from the Jewish Museum to contribute an essay to the catalogue...
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Bruno Schulz's "mad father", whose monologue was quoted above, seems to aspire to Faustian claims by his request of Demiurgy; the longing for creative powers, even on a smaller degree, is however much more modest when we peruse the context of the above quotation...
PART ONE: Ancient Traditions
1. Ancient Parallels
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Creating artificial anthropoids was part of the early layers of magic. Some of them were simple automata, others were speaking statues, and only a few of them were entities fraught with spiritual capabilities. In the following remarks I shall limit the discussion only to those phenomena which could, and indeed I believe did...
2. Sefer Yezirah
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The most influential text which shaped most of the later versions of the creation of the Golem is Sefer Yezirah.1 This short text is an ancient cosmogonical and cosmological treatise,2 which, as we shall see below, has also other important topics to offer, particularly pertinent to our discussion though they were presented in a concise...
3. Talmud and Midrash
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Two points seem to be pertinent to the proper understanding of this passage: though the magical powers of the righteous are extraordinary, their being able to create a world, Rava himself was not able to create a creature who could speak. I assume that the term describing those who may create a mute creature...
PART TWO: Medieval Elaborations
4. Tempering Magic: Geonic and Rationalistic Attitudes
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The story of the artificial man in the Sanhedrin passage was presented above as part of a polemical attitude.1 The supernaturalism of the pagan magic was combated by the assumption that revelations by means of statues cannot be achieved, since even the most accomplished masters cannot ereate a speaking man, let alone a speaking statue. Nevertheless, the assumption was that the righteous were able to create...
5. Ashkenazi Hasidic Views on the Golem
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As was seen above, the peculiar type of creating the artificial man by Rava was conceived by some Jewish authors as revolving around Sefer Yezirah 1 However, besides this statement it is difficult to find any substantial description regarding the details...
6. The Northern France Discussions
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One of the most interesting descriptions of the creation of a Golem is found in a Commentary on Sefer Yezirah, written by an unknown thirteenth century author, presumably of French extraction, and attributed in print to R. Sa'adyah Gaon...
7. The Golem in Ecstatic Kabbalah
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As we shall see later on, the early Provengal and Catalan Kabbalists were not especially interested either in the nature of the artificial man or in the technique of its creation. With the exception of few statements, always related to passages in the Talmud...
8. R. Joseph ben Shalom Ashkenazi
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The influence of the technique of creating the Golem found in R. Eleazar of Worms' Commentary on Sefer Yezirah on the development of subsequent techniques was tremendous. Although ignored in the standard descriptions of the impact of the Ashkenazi theology on Kabbalah,1 it played a crucial role in several important domains of this lore. As seen above, it exercised a deep influence...
9. Psychological Implications of the Golem
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The emergence of Kabbalah on the historical scene in Provence and Spain reflects, as scholars have already pointed out, only a marginal interest in the nature of an artificial man or the techniques of its creation.1 Though deeply influenced by the Talmudic texts...
10. Theosophical Interpretations of the Golem
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The deep interest in the Golem techniques and practices, so characteristic of the Northern France and German Jewish masters conspicuously distinguishes them from their contemporaries in Southern France and Spain. The possible reasons for this divergence will preoccupy us later on. Here we shall analyze the discussions of those Kabbalists...
PART THREE: Renaissance Period
11. Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century Discussionsin the West
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A surge in the new interest in the creation of an anthropoid is conspicuous among Jewish and Christian authors during the period of the Renaissance. This phenomenon is evident in Italy, where the Jewish cultural center remained intact in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries, in contrast to the destruction of Spanish...
12. R. Moses benJacob Cordovero's View
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If the position of R. Isaac of Acre is the most radical view among the Kabbalists concerning the possibility of creating a perfect artificial man,1 the opposite extreme is that of the Safedian Kabbalist, R. Moses Cordovero. For him, it is impossible to draw down even the lower soul,...
PART FOUR: Early-Modern and Modern Reverberations
13. R. Eliyahu, the Master of the Name, of Helm
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The earliest known legend of the creation of a Golem by an historical figure living during the second part of the sixteenth century, stems from Christian sources, as late as 1674. Their authors, Johann Wuelfer and Christoph Arnold reported the story as a tradition connected...
14. Golem in the Halakhah
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Halakhah is a legal system that intends to clarify the minutiae of the behaviour of the Jews, as they were disclosed in general lines in the earlier strata of Judaism: Bible and Mishnah.1 Though dealing with details related to real entities and events, Halakhah does not totally refrain...
15. Golem and Sex
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The Aramaic term for an anthropoid used by the editors of the Sanhedrin passage is gavra literally, a man, and, more specifically, a male person.1 In Hebrew, on the other hand, an unmarried woman was considered to be, like an unmarried man, an imperfect being, and she was referred to in classical texts as a Golem...
16. Vicissitudes of the Golem Techniques
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The explicit assumption that Sefer Yezirah includes the technique to create a man was widespread in Judaism since the Middle Ages. Though there were several versions regarding the precise manner to create the Golem by means of combinations of letters, there is no evidence for views that considered these techniques...
17. Golem and Hasidic Mysticism
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The early Hasidic literature is surprisingly impoverished in discussions on the nature of the Golem or in the descriptions of techniques of creating such a being. Even the legends regarding this extraordinary being are very rare.1 Outstanding exceptions are the discussions...
18. Modern Reverberations
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In the preceding discussions we have avoided the treatment of the most widespread tradition on the creation of the Golem: that attributed to the Maharal, R. Yehudah Loew ben Bezalel of Prague. It is the specific attribution of the creation of a Golem to this outstanding...
19. Golem: Imaginaire, Anomian, and Silent
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After describing in detail the most important forms of the Golem phenomena, it would be pertinent to attempt to locate the various views in the larger field of the medieval "wonder-phenomena." In the last generation, a whole scholarly literature has been dedicated...
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The findings of the above analyses may indicate more than unrelated descriptions of a certain subject recurrent in Jewish magical and mystical literature. A close reading of the material concerning a very specific topic as the Golem may also allow more general conclusions with respect to some points regarding the picture of the history of Jewish...
PART FIVE: Appendixes
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Page Count: 128
Illustrations: 20 color illustrations and 90 b/w photographs
Publication Year: 1988